Influence

INFLUENCE… by JACK Clark (yes – Alysa’s husband – I told her it'd be dangerous to give me her Blogger login).

If there’s a word for 2008 for me, it’s **influence**. I am amazed at the influence others have on me/us and the influence we can have on others. I am marked by those around us this year who made sacrifices to reach out to others in need. It’s kinda like “paying it forward”… with a twist.

Some friends of ours, Mark and Katherine decided last Spring to sign up for “Safe Families”. This is an organization that places children into a “safe” Christian home anywhere from overnight to 3 months. Perhaps the parent(s) are going through something traumatic, need child-care while finding a job, etc. It was started by Lydia Home – a place where neglected and abused children are taken – as a way to PREVENT children becoming neglected and abused.

Mark and Katherine received a one year old boy for three weeks while his single mother looked for a job - they were at risk of becoming homeless. While Mark and Katherine are good parents, they have 3 young ones of their own including a newborn – their plate was full. But they loved on this boy for the time they had him. I recall asking them “do you wonder what the mother is doing right now? 18 years old. Free from responsibilities for 3 weeks. Is she sleeping-in or partying or just relaxing while someone else took care of her child?” Katherine responded that yes – there is that possibility that we are being taken advantage of and there is an element of that that is bothersome – but that’s not their job to worry about that. They had simply agreed to provide love and shelter to someone who needed it.

Three weeks later, they returned the boy to his mother… who had a new job!

My sister has a long history of reaching out to those in need. This year, she reached out to a friend whose marriage was in serious trouble. She moved her into her house, gave her financial breaks and gave her a safe place to work through issues. More than that, she provided emotional support, a shoulder to cry on and a sounding board to vent. She gave in just about every way a person can give.

This year a women in our church went through a stem-cell transplant to help her overcome Hodgkin Lymphoma. She was in intensive care at the hospital for months and then moved to a hygienically spotless halfway home/seclusion for 3 more months. Meanwhile a small army of volunteers dedicated themselves to filling in all the gaps that this illness brought: visits, calls and cards; childcare for their three children; cleaning/sterilizing the halfway home and her home; purchase of new linens, pillows, blankets, etc.; almost daily transportation for kids; donation of blood platelets; prayer; meals for the family; overnight stays with the children since the husband is a fireman with overnight shifts; grocery shopping; etc. - it was a herculean effort from a huge group of volunteers - all of who just volunteered "under the radar". No speech from the pulpit. No twisting of arms. Just an awareness of the need and a "just sign me up - whatever she needs!" attitude. Recently, this woman has finally returned home to her family. So far, the transplant appears to be successful!

A friend of ours recently signed up for Safe Families – she credits Alysa’s blog about Hiyam and Maryam for giving her the courage to sign-up. She received Ethan – a one year old with special needs for several weeks. From email excerpts, I’ll let her tell her story.

i spoke to the mom tonight and she shared with me the following: Ethan was born 3 months premature and as a result has many, many problems. ethan has been assessed and despite the fact he is 18 months old, he is functioning as a 10 month old. he is severely nearsighted, he is very hard of hearing, he has severe physical delays (both gross motor--can't walk, and fine motor--can't lift small objects at all), he has asthma and can't swallow his saliva (soaked through 2 bids in 3 hours!!)

however…

he smiles and he laughs and he loves music and loves books. he drank all his milk from a bottle and went to bed with no trouble at all. periodically he spontaneously reaches out to touch whoever is near him...is it because he can't see or can't hear or is it because he wants to know he isn't alone--it doesn't matter it is the cutest thing.

Ethan is a good boy. he does all the things all babies do: he sleeps, cries, eats and needs his diaper changed. i will add to that list with he needs a frequent bib change. and i mean frequent!! he is constantly "leaking" as my son once said about his baby sister. fortunately, the mom packed so many bibs--now i know why. i did a load of his things today: a onsie, an outfit, a towel, a blanket and 16 bibs. of course, i would love for him to be able to swallow his saliva but i bet he wishes he could do it too, so i just can't complain.

But now on to some amazing important stuff:

The mom... incredible!! she spoke to me today about how she really needed this break. she explained to me that she called ethan's father hoping he could take ethan while she tried to find a new place to live, a job and day care arrangements. he refused. when he found out that she was going to place him with "lydia's safe families program" he thought she was crazy and said 30 days would not make a difference. well, don't ever tell a woman she can't do something!!

in the past 3 days, she has found a new place to live. a nice condo to rent with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. she was so happy to describe it all to me in detail. she explained how my having ethan has allowed her to clean up her current place and she's even started packing!! how cool is that??? but still not as cool as this next fact...

she got a job. that's right.... a new place to live and a job in 3 days!!!. she will be managing a mcdonalds (apparently she has a management background) she spoke to her new employer and explained the need to find child care and he said she can start after she's settled that situation. how great is that???

now that also means we will probably not have ethan for the full 30 days but that's ok...that's really so great because that means she is able to care for him and was able to put her life back in order in a relatively short period of time (a very short time!!). the goal of "safe families" is to reunite the children with their parents so this is proving to be a success story after only 3 days!!!. she also shared that her 5 year old daughter is missing ethan so much she is crying out his name at night while she's sleeping. so sad. it must be so confusing for her. she sang "twinkle-twinkle" to ethan over the phone and his eyes lit up and he smiled so they must have quite a sibling bond.

at this point, we have no idea how long ethan will be with us but it certainly is reassuring to know that when he returns to his home, his mom will be so ready to care for him. she repeated over and over to me how much she loves him and how she takes good care of him but she just couldn't do all that needed to be done and take care for him. i tried to comfort her... i really do believe her....it is a lot of work. i can't believe what the 4 of us have done these past 3 days she has done as a single parent of two children everyday for 18 months. it is to be admired.

well, one more story and then i really need to go to bed!!

tonight when i was reading ethan his bedtime books he turned around and looked at me. i got quiet and just let our eyes meet. he wasn't smiling or crying. he was just looking at me--- real eye contact. i took a picture in my head of that face. a mental image that could never be captured on film. he just looked at me... i remained quiet and eventually he turned around to look at the book.

i was amazed..."what are you seeing? what are you thinking??" i wanted to ask him.

instead a list grew in my head:

maybe he was thinking: "do you know you've read this book to me already today 100 times."
or maybe "do you know you've read this to me already today 100 times and i love it and i appreciate it."
or maybe "please stop reading this book to me!"

then i went to "can you read louder you know i can't hear well."
of course that lead to "can you hold the book closer to my eyes... you know i can’t see well."

i then thought, maybe i'm reading this book that his mom usually reads him and he just realized he's not hearing his mom's voice but the words are the same and he got confused so he looked around to try and figure it out. or maybe he just turned around, looked up at my face and realized for the first time: she's white.

whatever... i'll never know for sure but it was an interesting moment.

it is truly a blessing to be a part of the moms "recovery" program (not drug related). she explained to be that she just needed a break. after caring for ethan for only 1 week i can see why. i just can't imagine her struggle... no, husband, no car, an apartment that continuously get robbed, no family support system, two children with special needs (she has a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy)... it is such a different life than the one i have (and my children are healthy!) of course i knew most of the "work" would fall on me but my husband and 2 teenage children helped out quite a bit... but to think she does it alone. so amazing.

when the mom was finding it hard to thank me...she kept crying and saying thank me over and over... at first i thought i should stop her but then i remembered alysa and how she took the tea from hiyam because it was the only way for her to express her gratitude.... so i too allowed her to just cry and thank me. it was humbling to think someone was so affected by my actions. it was so sweet to think God used me.

Amazing.

I’ve re-read this story for the 4th time and for as many times, tears fill my eyes. I cry because I hope someone would reach out to me in such a way if I were in such a desperate situation. I cry because I realize my own selfishness. I cry because this relatively small act of love is so beautiful – and it influences me greatly.

People choosing to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” to others in need. Thank you friends. It’s hard not to be influenced by you.

Comments

Jill said…
Thanks for "blogging", Jack. What a great reminder of the mindset we need to have everday. Thanks for the encouraging post!
Alice said…
This is great. I loved reading about your friends' experiences; wow.

I've often thought these last few weeks about how Alysa felt when she quit MOPS and didn't accept the missions position at church she had wanted so much as well...what hard decisions those were. Now we can look back at that and see that God was freeing up her time to use it for His even better purpose. He is so good.

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